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10 June 202119:45

Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova, Moscow, June 10, 2021

1185-10-06-2021

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Table of contents

 

  1. Thirty-sixth meeting of the Council of Regional Governors of Russia at the Foreign Ministry
  2. Sergey Lavrov’s upcoming talks with Foreign Minister of Belarus Vladimir Makei
  3. Russia’s position on the EU Aviation Safety Agency’s directive for European airlines concerning Belarus
  4. Update on the detention of the third captain’s mate of the Russian ship Amur in Japan
  5. Update on the detention of Russian national Sofia Sapega in Belarus
  6. The arrest of Russian national Vladislav Klyushin in Switzerland at the request of the United States
  7. Commentary on the situation with Russian national Alexei Nikiforov accused of espionage in Denmark
  8. An Arria-formula informal meeting of UN Security Council members on the Maidan protests and their consequences for Donbass
  9. Nationalist actions against Russian diplomatic offices and staff in Ukraine
  10. Leonid Kravchuk’s comments on Donbass
  11. The Day of the Russian Language
  12. Results of special UN General Assembly session against corruption
  13. Update on developments at Tajik-Kyrgyz border areas
  14. Cuba’s inclusion in the federal registry of states “not fully cooperating” with US counterterrorism efforts
  15. Mali update
  16. The dismantling of an obelisk at a Soviet burial site in Poland
  17. The illegal data collection scandal involving the Defence Ministry of the Netherlands
  18. Italy’s National Museum of XXI Century Arts opens a branch at Palazzo Ardingelli 
  19. Italy opens park to commemorate children of Beslan
  20. Mass grave of indigenous children found in Canada
  21. Travel to and from Russia for football fans during the 2020 UEFA European Football Championship
  22. Host City Media Centre in St Petersburg
  23. Coronavirus update
  24. Russia Day

Answers to media questions:

 

  1. Situation with Russian Community Council of the USA (KSORS)
  2. Agreement on Russian naval logistics base in the Red Sea
  3. Mine clearing in Nagorno-Karabakh
  4. Developing transport and economic ties in South Caucasus
  5. Russia−Azerbaijan interaction
  6. Scandal with Danish Defence Intelligence Service
  7. Kosovo settlement
  8. Appointment of High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina
  9. Nord Stream 2 completion
  10. Recognition of Morocco’s sovereignty over Western Sahara
  11. Russia−NATO interaction
  12. E-visas for vaccine tourism
  13. Russia’s readiness to normalise relations with EU
  14. Summits and meetings of so-called Western coalition
  15. Residence permits and Russian citizenship for compatriots living abroad

 

 

 

Thirty-sixth meeting of the Council of Regional Governors of Russia at the Foreign Ministry

 

On June 15, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will chair the 36th meeting of the Council of Regional Governors of Russia at the Foreign Ministry. The governors that are council members, top managers from the Presidential Executive Office and federal executive government bodies will take part in the meeting.

The main item on the agenda is the Russian regions’ participation in international regional cooperation formats.

In periods of political turbulence, such formats can play a constructive, stabilising role and can facilitate integration, especially in the EAEU, the SCO and the Greater Eurasian Partnership.

The participants plan to discuss measures that will allow the regions to enhance their contribution to the activities of multilateral dialogue venues and to draft recommendations to this end.

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 Sergey Lavrov’s upcoming talks with Foreign Minister of Belarus Vladimir Makei

 

On June 17-18, Foreign Minister of the Republic of Belarus Vladimir Makei will pay a working visit to Moscow at the invitation of his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov.

During the visit, the ministers plan to review a broad range of current bilateral and international issues.

They will focus on cooperation in the Union State’s integration formats, the EAEU, the CSTO and the CIS. They will discuss in detail ways of coordinating their positions at international venues, including the UN and the OSCE under the programme of coordinated foreign policy actions of the participants in the Union State Treaty in 2020-2021.

The ministers plan to exchange views on international and European security issues, on relations with the United States and the European Union, including joint steps to counter foreign interference in the internal affairs of sovereign states.

The ministers will review the development of bilateral cooperation between their foreign ministries, including preparations for a joint session of their collegiums scheduled to take place in Moscow in the fourth quarter of this year.

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Russia’s position on the EU Aviation Safety Agency’s directive for European airlines concerning Belarus

 

We must state with regret that the situation with the forced diversion and landing of the Ryanair flight at the Minsk airport has become, for the European Union, just another pretext for ratcheting up sanctions pressure on Belarus.

Our negative attitude towards the practice of imposing unilateral restrictions by the EU is well known and remains unchanged.

The haste with which Brussels chose to not wait for the results of an objective international investigation raises many justifiable questions. The decision to launch such an investigation was made by the ICAO Council on May 27. The official clarifications provided by President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko on May 26 have also been ignored.

We are convinced of the need to conduct an in-depth study into the circumstances of the incident in cooperation with the Belarusian authorities, which have confirmed a willingness to provide materials and to ensure a thorough and transparent investigation. We look forward to an objective and professional review of this matter by ICAO.

Belarus is an important transit country for international air traffic. As is known, numerous air routes, including from EU countries, fly through its airspace. From now on, EU member state airlines, which are still reeling from the aftermath of the coronavirus crisis, will have to incur the additional expenses of longer flight routing to bypass Belarus.

It would be perfectly fair to point to the evident environmental aspect of this issue, given that our Western partners prioritise the environmental agenda at their summits. It is strange that they completely lose sight of this most important aspect when implementing political decisions in practice. Let’s take a look at the realities against the backdrop of the European Green Deal which was announced by Brussels and is promoted by it. According to EU experts (not ours, but the EU’s experts), flying around Belarus will cost EU airlines an additional 79 tonnes of aviation fuel daily, which increases carbon dioxide emissions in the atmosphere by 250 tonnes per day. Here’s a good question: what does Greta Thunberg think about this? Was she asked for her opinion? Brussels has quoted her in the past.

Clearly, a hasty and politically motivated rerouting of flights is not good for flight safety; it burdens air traffic controllers and inconveniences passengers.

Our EU partners obviously make decisions based on the premise that “the end justifies the means,” since a great number of principles that are so dear to Brussels can so easily be discarded, if necessary. This also applies to the side effects of the sanctions imposed on Minsk. As EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell said at the European Parliament on June 8 when discussing Belarus, “you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs.” Here’s what I would say to Mr Borrell: if you want an omelette, break your own eggs.

We regard the logic of building international relations adopted by Brussels as straight out unacceptable. I have just given examples of our approach to this matter.

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Update on the detention of the third captain’s mate of the Russian ship Amur in Japan

 

I would like to note, much to our regret, that many citizens of Russia and other countries get into emergencies abroad for different reasons. The duty of the diplomatic service of Russia (as a rule, this is also the practice of foreign countries) is to help uphold their rights, respond to their requests, and so on. There are cases that never interest journalists. I cannot say that I understand this logic because I think all citizens deserve equal treatment. Some cases are high profile because they involve outrageous neglect or violations of their rights. There are cases when the media are interested, making an exception. We believe that all Russian citizens who find themselves in a situation requiring diplomatic aid can and should count on equal treatment. Naturally enough, our consular and diplomatic offices grant such aid. I would like to comment on a few high-profile cases.

On May 26 of this year, the Russian ship Amur (from the Nevelsk port of origin) collided in dense fog with the Japanese fishing vessel Hokko Maru 8 not far from the Japanese island of Hokkaido. The Russian sailors rescued five Japanese fishermen who were in the water, but unfortunately, three of them were later confirmed dead. We would like to express our condolences to their families and friends.

Now the Amur and its crew are in the port of Mombetsu. The ship has been seized as collateral for the damage.

On June 7, the coast guard of Japan informed the Russian Consulate General in Sapporo about the arrest of Pavel Dobryansky, the third mate of the ship’s captain. He was in command of the ship during the collision. He is charged with manslaughter in the performance of his duties. To our knowledge, the competent bodies of Japan intend to assess the actions of the Japanese ship’s captain as well. 

Since the first day, the Russian Embassy in Japan and our Consulate General in Sapporo have closely monitored the developments to protect the lawful rights and interests of the Russian citizens. They are in close contact with the Amur crew, the ship’s owner and the local competent bodies. A consular employee visited Mombetsu. Our sailors feel all right and are provided with food and water. The Russian company that owns the ship hired a lawyer to protect the interests of the detained sailor.

We hope that the Japanese authorities will conduct an unbiased investigation into the causes of this tragedy and that the entire crew and the Amur will be returned to Russia soon.

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Update on the detention of Russian national Sofia Sapega in Belarus

 

As we informed you at the previous briefing on May 26, the Russian Embassy in Minsk is watching closely the situation with Sofia Sapega and continues to give her support in close cooperation with her relatives and lawyer.

On June 1, the Belarusian authorities charged her formally under Article 130, Part 3 of the Belarusian Criminal Code, which reads “Inciting racial, national, religious or any other enmity or discord,” and carries a maximum jail term of 12 years. 

On June 9, the Russian consul visited Ms Sapega for the second time – the first time was on May 25 – at the Belarusian KGB detention centre. Ms Sapega did not complain about the detention conditions, health problems or improper treatment.

According to her lawyer, the Foundation to Support and Protect the Rights of Compatriots Living Abroad has met Sapega’s stepfather’s request for the allocation of funds to pay the lawyer’s fees. 

Our country’s leaders and our ministry are keeping a close eye on the situation. It is a subject of discussion during diplomatic contacts, and it will also be included on the agenda for the forthcoming talks between the foreign ministers of the two countries, which will take place in Moscow on June 18. 

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The arrest of Russian national Vladislav Klyushin in Switzerland at the request of the United States

 

On March 21 this year, Russian national Vladislav Klyushin was detained at Sion airport in the canton of Valais, Switzerland, at the extradition request of the United States.  

He is being provided the necessary consular support and legal assistance. From the beginning, consular access has been allowed. Consular officials from the Russian Embassy and the Consulate-General are maintaining contact with Vladislav Klyushin and his lawyer.

The Russian Embassy in Bern is also in touch with the Swiss authorities to make sure the Russian national can exercise his rights.

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Commentary on the situation with Russian national Alexei Nikiforov accused of espionage in Denmark

 

On May 10 of this year, the court in Aalborg, Denmark, sentenced Russian national Alexei Nikiforov to three years in prison. Nikiforov was detained in Denmark on a charge of working for the Russian intelligence service. The court completely ignored the defence’s arguments. Clearly, this biased and politicised approach is a graphic illustration of the anti-Russia policy that has taken root in the Danish political establishment.

Our compatriot disagrees with the sentence and his defence team has filed an appealed against the court ruling.

The Russian Embassy in Denmark is maintaining close contact with Alexei Nikiforov and his lawyer and is doing everything it can to protect the Russian national’s rights and interests.

These are several items – I would not call them high-profile, but we are giving attention to each of them – that are closely watched by the Russian media and the public. Not only do we answer questions concerning these and other Russian nationals at our weekly briefings but we also answer the questions we receive throughout the week. We will work like this in the future. This refers to our diplomatic and consular missions and press service alike.

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An Arria-formula informal meeting of UN Security Council members on the Maidan protests and their consequences for Donbass

 

On June 2, at the initiative of Russia, a virtual informal Arria-formula meeting of UN Security Council members was held on the subject, “The circumstances of the Maidan events and their consequences for Donbass.” The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the root causes of the armed conflict in eastern Ukraine, which came as a result of the coup perpetrated in Kiev with strong outside support.

The speakers included former Prime Minister of Ukraine Nikolai Azarov and former Verkhovna Rada deputies Oleg Tsaryov and Vladimir Oleynik. They outlined an objective picture of what happened during the Maidan protests, of which they were first-hand witnesses. British photographer Dean O’Brien and French filmmaker Anne-Laure Bonnel also offered great remarks. They said the Western media outlets were reluctant to truthfully cover the events in Ukraine and blacked out many pressing problems in that country, including manifestations of neo-Nazism, and tough censorship on behalf of news agencies.

To reiterate, since many people are confused because they do not see the difference, I am not talking about a Security Council meeting, or Security Council consultations. This was an informal Arria-formula meeting attended by representatives from 29 countries. From among the Security Council members, Great Britain, the United States and Estonia, which chairs the Council in June, boycotted it citing the inclusion of a number of speakers on their national and EU sanction lists. Actually, it was a virtual meeting. There was no need to obtain visas or cross borders. One could have the chance to hear more from them than what they see on television or read in local US and British media publications. One could lend an ear occasionally and learn something about alternative viewpoints.

Many delegations showed an interest in what the speakers had to say about the actual state of affairs in Ukraine and its historical background. Of course, there was yet another volley of groundless accusations against us from the Western participants who expressed concern about Russia’s “abuse” of the Security Council and its direct engagement in Ukraine’s affairs. However, they preferred not to emphasise Kiev’s flagrant violations of its commitments under the UN Security Council-approved Minsk Package of Measures, which is the main reason for the failure to overcome this grave situation and to resolve the Donbass conflict. The Western participants chose not to bring this up.

Thus, despite the boycott on the part of certain countries, the meeting was a success. Russia’s initiative made it possible to convey true first-hand assessments of the events that took place in Ukraine in 2014 and their consequences. However, these assessments continue to be ignored by the Western media.

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 Nationalist actions against Russian diplomatic offices and staff in Ukraine

 

With the overt connivance of the authorities, Ukrainian nationalists continue to invent various excuses to complicate the work of Russian diplomatic and consular offices and to prevent the staff from performing their official duties.

Unfortunately, the provocations by these nationalists, these neo-Nazi radicals, are becoming more common and aggressive. In the last few weeks, they have staged a number of actions at the walls of our Embassy in Kiev. They blocked access to our diplomatic mission grounds and chanted abusive anti-Russia slogans. They have learned to stage these performances and are good at them. In the process, they use different pretexts. The main goal seems to be to stage some activity in front of our diplomatic mission to attract attention to themselves. But it is evident that they remind others not of their achievements but of their handicap, their inferiority because this is the only way to describe their actions.

Here are some examples. Judge for yourself.

On June 3 of this year, they staged an ugly act devoted to the 450th anniversary of Moscow’s burning by Crimean Khan Devlet Giray. It is impossible to understand what today’s Ukraine has to do with these long distant events. Nobody in Kiev wants to recall how this khan attacked Ukraine’s current lands. If such an act is staged in front of our Embassy, it would probably be logical to remember what happened at that time on lands that now belong to Ukraine.

Same radicals, neo-Nazis, staged an even more outrageous act in the village of Zabolotovtsy in the Lvov Region on June 6 of this year. Chanting Nazi slogans, they prevented Russian diplomats and Ukrainian citizens from laying flowers at the monument to Alexander Pushkin on his 222nd birth anniversary. These radicals used force to snatch a bouquet of flowers from the hands of Acting Consul General of Russia in Lvov Irina Kulagina. Neither respect for this major global cultural figure, nor the diplomatic status of our employee, and not even the fact that she is a woman, stopped them from this behavior.

What is particularly scandalous is that all this took place in front of Ukrainian police who blatantly neglected their professional functions. They stood literally a couple of steps away from the incident site but did not lift a finger to stop the radicals. This absolutely indifferent conduct by law enforcement shows that the provocations by these nationalists were coordinated with the local authorities.

In this connection, on June 10, the Russian Foreign Ministry summoned Ukrainian Charge d’Affairs in Moscow Vadim Pokotilo and expressed to him its resolute protest over yet another violation by Kiev of its commitments under the 1961 and 1963 Vienna conventions. Once again, the Foreign Ministry demanded that Ukraine do everything necessary to prevent such provocations and to ensure normal working conditions for the Russian Embassy and Consulate General in Ukraine, and the safety of their staff. The Ukrainian diplomat was told that the Russian Embassy in Kiev sent notes of protest to the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry with a demand for a detailed investigation of these provocations and liability for the participants and organisers. Contrary to the norms of diplomatic practice, our demarches have not yet received a response.

We urge the Ukrainian authorities to stop conniving with militant nationalists, to prevent these demonstrations and comply with universally accepted international norms, primarily their commitments under the Vienna convention on diplomatic relations.

We understand, of course, that the Kiev regime is young. However, it is time for it to become civilised. Although there are some experienced politicians there, they behave almost the same way.

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Leonid Kravchuk’s comments on Donbass

 

We noted Leonid Kravchuk’s recent remarks on Donbass as a “cancerous tumor,” with a reference to Ukrainian classic literature author Oles Gonchar, who, after the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the country’s gaining independence, promptly morphed into an ardent nationalist and Russophobe. But for all his dislike and even hatred for Donbass, as the diaries published after his death show, he did not express his negative attitude towards the people of Donbass in such words. At least, we have not found them.

So we leave the authorship of this “highly artistic comparison” on the conscience of the head of the Ukrainian delegation in the Contact Group for the settlement of the situation in Donbass and his first deputy Alexei Reznikov, who actually used a different epithet earlier – “malignant tumor.” But they, however, are not really very creative in this. They have had many predecessors in responsible positions, for whom Donbass residents are nothing more than “subhuman,” “biomass,” “quilted jackets,” etc.

When I was preparing the commentary on this, I tried to understand the logic. Apart from emotions, there must always be simple logic behind such vivid expressions and emphatic comparisons. What exactly did Leonid Kravchuk mean to say with this epithet? I am left wondering. Typically, a cancerous tumor is either excised from a healthy body or irradiated in some way. Do we understand correctly that this Ukrainian Contact Group representative, Leonid Kravchuk, proposes to “cut Donbass out” from the territory of Ukraine or start “irradiating” it in some way? At least, I cannot imagine anything else that might be implied in this phrase. There is, of course, a third option, that he merely put his foot in the mouth off-handedly. Given that this is not the first time statements like this have been made by Ukrainian officials, I would like to understand what exactly they mean. Which proposals do they mean to promote in this way?

I would like to stress once again that we are talking about a representative of the Ukrainian delegation in the Contact Group. In the course of negotiations within this framework, they sabotage in every possible way the implementation of the Minsk agreements which might open the way for reunification with Donbass. With such statements, they are actually doing everything they can to not bring back, as the Ukrainian president calls for, but on the contrary – to alienate the residents of Donbass, or, following the logic of this phrase, simply “cut Donbass out.”

I do not want to believe that all of Kiev’s “blather” is completely meaningless. I would like to find at least some thoughts embedded in these phrases.

In his statement, Leonid Kravchuk essentially admitted that an attempt to break the will of the people in Donbass through military force was a mistake (and, in their opinion, a crime). He says, “it would have been possible to build a different policy towards the region.” So, this isn’t about Russian “aggression,” but about the civil war unleashed by the Maidan authorities against their own people who opposed the imposition of an alien identity on them with the glorification of Nazi collaborators and the elimination of everything that Donbass lives for and aspires to.

It is only too bad that the lessons of the past remain unlearned. Leonid Kravchuk, as before, proposes to “reintegrate” the region not by implementing the Minsk Package of Measures in its entirety and the sequence prescribed there, but through formulas that have nothing in common with them. And this, as the seven-year experience of futile attempts to bring peace and calm back to Donbass shows, is the road to nowhere.

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The Day of the Russian Language

 

Traditionally, on June 6, the birth anniversary of remarkable Russian poet Alexander Pushkin, the world marks the Day of the Russian Language. The UN observes this day under a programme to develop multilingualism and cultural diversity to maintain the equality of the UN’s six official languages, one of which is Russian.

On this day, by tradition, Russian diplomatic missions, Russian cultural centres and associations of our compatriots living in various parts of the world hold a great deal of events. It is particularly gratifying to listen to foreigners recite Pushkin’s poems by heart without fumbling over any words. 

On May 24–28, the Kostomarovsky Forum was held at the Pushkin State Russian Language Institute under the auspices of the Commission of the Russian Federation for UNESCO. It focused on the problems the Russian language has to cope with and attracted 23,000 online visitors from 101 countries. 

Director-General of UNESCO Audrey Azoulay delivered her first video message of congratulations this year, noting the considerable contribution of the Russian language to the development of culture, science, education and communications. 

Another major literary occasion, the 7th Red Square Book Festival, will take place in Moscow on June 17–20. Its programme includes 500 offline and online events, which will be held on over 10 sites and attended by hundreds of writers, publishers, actors and actresses, musicians and readers. It is planned during the festival to celebrate the bicentenary of Fyodor Dostoevsky and the bicentenary of Nikolai Nekrasov, two great Russian writers, the centenary of famous Soviet scientist and public figure Andrey Sakharov and the 800th anniversary of Nizhny Novgorod. These are also important dates not only for our culture but the world culture as well.

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Results of special UN General Assembly session against corruption

 

On June 2-4, a special session against corruption was held at the UN General Assembly in a hybrid format. Russia was represented by Deputy Foreign Minister Oleg Syromolotov.

In his address to the UN General Assembly, Oleg Syromolotov emphasised the importance of the UN Convention against Corruption as the only universal agreement regulating all aspects of combating corruption. The Convention helped to create a global anti-corruption political and legal environment without any inconsistencies between national jurisdictions, cumbersome legal assistance instruments and imperfect extradition mechanisms. He pointed out that Russia’s accession to the Convention stimulated the improvement of national legislation and law enforcement practices in this sphere. The Russian Federation also sets a high value on the promotion of international cooperation based on the Convention and has been consistently advocating the creation of an additional instrument that will fill in the remaining gaps in the international legal regulation of criminal asset recovery.

A Political Declaration based on the results of the special session covers all the main aspects of combating corruption, including issues of priority significance for Russia, such as enhancing the efficiency of international cooperation to prevent corruption, using modern technology to expose corruption, promoting anti-corruption training and safeguarding sport from corruption. The participants reached an agreement on strengthening internal legislation on asset recovery and further coordinated practical moves in this field. We believe that these efforts will be boosted by the concurrent launch of the Global Operational Network of Anti-Corruption Law Enforcement Authorities (​GlobE Network), which the G20 countries initiated in 2020. The project is being implemented by the UN Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) with active contribution from Convention signatories, including Russia.

About 40 themed side events were held during the special session, including an expert discussion on international cooperation on corruption prevention matters, organised by the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office together with the Foreign Ministry’s support. It was attended by law enforcement experts from Russia, Brazil, China, India, the UNODC and the International Anti-Corruption Academy (IACA). The event attracted the attention of UN member states and civil society institutions, which reaffirmed the importance of this subject and its practical aspects for combating corruption.

Russia will facilitate the implementation of the political declaration’s provisions of priority importance for us, first of all by strengthening interaction with the member states of the Convention and by initiating and supporting related projects of the UN Office of Drugs and Crime.

Information about the special session is available on the UNODC’s website.

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Update on developments at Tajik-Kyrgyz border areas

 

We followed the aggravation of the situation at the Tajik-Kyrgyz border on April 28-30 of this year. We commented on this and sent appeals to the parties. Russia welcomed the agreements they reached on settling the incident exclusively through political and diplomatic means via direct dialogue.

In this context, we are happy to say that on June 5 representatives of the Republic of Tajikistan and the Kyrgyz Republic, the heads of their state commissions on border delimitation and demarcation, adopted a joint statement on reducing tensions in the border area. It provides, in part, for the withdrawal of the border checkpoints of both sides further back in their territories and for moving troops and combat equipment back to their permanent bases.

We urge our Kyrgyz and Tajik allies to abide strictly by the reached agreements. It is necessary to bring the process of peaceful border delimitation to its logical completion.

We reaffirm the willingness of the Russian Federation to grant to the two brotherly states, if they are interested, expert and other aid in establishing sustainable peace and security in their border areas.

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Cuba’s inclusion in the federal registry of states “not fully cooperating” with US counterterrorism efforts

 

We have noted an unfriendly act towards Cuba. On May 25, Cuba was included, for the second year, in the US federal registry of states “not fully cooperating” with US counterterrorism efforts.

We believe this unfriendly act by Washington reflects its politically motivated cynicism. We are seeing that under the Democratic administration US pressure on Cuba is becoming even tougher. The continuity and commitment to the legacy of Donald Trump is being preserved.

We again reaffirm our position, that is, our categorical rejection of any sanctions pressure in violation of the UN Charter and universally recognised standards of international law. We resolutely denounce the imposition of unilateral bans and restrictions on Havana. We consider completely unacceptable and useless (I believe the Cubans have proved this) any pressure tactics on the Cuban government and people.

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Mali update

 

Moscow continues to closely follow the developments in Mali, a country which is friendly to Russia. Domestic political tension in the country following the ouster of the Transitional Government’s President and Prime Minister by the military in late May is gradually subsiding.

This was largely facilitated by the June 7 inauguration of Interim President Assimi Goita who led the military coup on August 18, 2020. On that same day, he appointed Choguel Kokalla Maiga, leader of the influential opposition organisation, the June 5 Movement, Rally of Patriotic Forces (M5-RFP), to the post of Prime Minister.  In his inauguration speech, Assimi Goita assured everyone that all the earlier obligations, as regards the implementation of the transitional period, including the holding of general democratic elections on February 27, 2022, with the assistance of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the African Union, would be complied with. We perceive the policy statement made by the new Mali leaders as a positive message highlighting their readiness to facilitate wide-ranging public accord for the purpose of reinstating constitutional law and order as soon as possible.

Regarding the Mali settlement, we invariably proceed from a principle stipulating African solutions to African problems. In this context, we support mediatory efforts of ECOWAS and the African Union. At the same time, we believe that the people of Mali themselves should “play first fiddle,” while overcoming the current disagreements.

As a permanent UN Security Council member, Russia continues its constructive involvement in international efforts to stabilise the situation in Mali. It is firmly determined to continue providing Mali with comprehensive support on a bilateral basis.

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The dismantling of an obelisk at a Soviet burial site in Poland

 

We are once again witnessing the illegal destruction of the Soviet-era military-memorial heritage in Poland. An inventory inspection of Soviet-era memorials, conducted by Russia’s foreign missions in Poland, showed that an obelisk marking the grave of Hero of the Soviet Union Alexander Sinitsyn, located near a motorway between the Gorzyce and Pelkinie communities in the Subcarpathian Voivodeship is missing.

The 1.5-metre tall missing obelisk is listed in a 2003 catalogue of burial sites containing the remains of Soviet soldiers, prisoners of war and civilians, killed during WWII and buried in the Republic of Poland. The catalogue was compiled by the Russian and Polish sides.

Replying to our inquiry, the Polish authorities cited certain “natural causes” that contributed to the obelisk’s destruction. Dear Polish colleagues, are you really serious? It appears that one finds it hard to explain the disappearance of the obelisk from the pedestal by natural causes and natural phenomena. We have not heard about any tsunamis or earthquakes that could have caused all-out destruction in Poland.

I would like to recall that, under the 1994 Russian-Polish intergovernmental agreement on burial sites and memorials honouring the victims of wars and repressions, the Polish side was duty-bound to keep grave marker intact, all the more so as it is located on a military burial site.

We are expecting the Polish side which has repeatedly stated at different venues that it preserves and cares for the monuments and burial sites of Red Army soldiers to comply with its obligations and to unhesitatingly restore the monument and put it back in its original form to where it was in the first place.

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The illegal data collection scandal involving the Defence Ministry of the Netherlands

 

There have been many information “splashes” regarding illegal activities taking place on the territory of EU and NATO countries, activities related to cyber spying by member-states against each other as well as to the inadmissible US spying or intelligence activities (I am not sure how they describe this themselves) in those states.

There is yet another indicative story in the Netherlands. This state (not the people, but the political establishment) is unable to calm down and analyses what is happening in our country on a daily basis. But it fails to notice how their problems are multiplying at home.

For example, an instance of illegal personal data collection has been registered in the Netherlands. Recently, the National Coordinator for Security and Counterterrorism has been exposed as engaging in illegitimate shadowing of civilians. And now, another law enforcement agency of the Kingdom has distinguished itself. 

These days, the focus is on the Netherlands Ministry of Defence. A journalistic investigation has revealed that at the start of the COVID-19 epidemic the ministry created a specialised unit, Ground-Based Information Manoeuvre Centre, to collect data about Dutch subjects and organisations, while having no legal grounds for doing this. Moreover, even the Defence Minister was unaware of the Centre’s activities. 

So, what was the Centre doing? According to the Dutch military, it pursued noble aims, such as keeping an eye on supporters of the coronavirus conspiracy theory and fighting misinformation. But under this pretext it was spying on dozens of individuals and public movements, including the Dutch Yellow Vest division. 

These exposures are yet more evidence of the existence in the Netherlands and basically in the EU and NATO space of the worst practices characteristic of an Orwellian-type police state seeking to fully control its citizens and impose on them thought and behaviour models. Then, when they feel that exposure is close at hand or under way, they urgently invent “Russian hackers,” or “Chinese IT experts,” or whatever, so that people at home feel the threat coming from “somewhere” rather than from the EU or NATO law enforcement agencies. But the most important thing is to make them see and accept the need for the birth and proliferation of these ground information manoeuvre centres that keep them under surveillance. They are told that the focus is not on them but on the “Russian hackers” who should not be allowed to meddle in the life of the Dutch. This myth-making has reached the point of absurdity.

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Italy’s National Museum of XXI Century Arts opens a branch at Palazzo Ardingelli  

 

On May 28 of this year, Palazzo Ardingelli at L’Aquila (Abruzzo, Italy), a town badly damaged by the 2009 earthquake, was the venue of the opening of a branch of the National Museum of XXI Century Arts. The palazzo has been restored with funds contributed by the Russian Federation.  The opening ceremony was attended by Italian Minister of Culture Dario Franceschini, Russian Ambassador to Italy Sergey Razov, and representatives of the local authorities and the public.  The Italian officials expressed sincere gratitude to this country for restoring one of L’Aquila’s most notable historical buildings.

Somewhat earlier, Russia helped to rebuild yet another unique architectural monument, the Church of St Gregory the Great. The revival of these buildings symbolises the traditionally friendly ties between the peoples of Russia and Italy, relations characterised by mutual respect and a lack of indifference to someone else’s misfortune. 

It is not for the first time that we render help to the Italian people. A striking moment in the history of mutual assistance between our two countries was the saving of quake-hit Messina residents by sailors of a Russian Baltic squadron in the Strait of Messina in 1908.

In 2020, a Russian humanitarian mission was sent to Northern Italy to fight the spread of the coronavirus infection.

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Italy opens park to commemorate children of Beslan

 

On June 5, a new municipal park, Children of Beslan, opened in Rovereto (Trentino-Alto Adige autonomous region in Northern Italy). A commemorative plaque with information about the 2004 tragedy was installed near the children’s sports ground in the park.

Rovereto is not the only place in the Apennines to keep the memory of the terrorist attack victims. There is a Children of Beslan Square in Florence, and Turin has a Beslan Victims Park. There is the Children of Beslan school in Roccagorga, the Memory and Hope monument in Castelnovo di Sotto, and a park for children called The Kids of Beslan in Lurago d'Erba. There are more. In many small towns, streets are named to commemorate the deadly school siege. A bronze sculpture by Vandi Renzo Jarno has been established in the centre of the Republic of San Marino.

The event was initiated by the Italian charity Help Us Save the Children (Aiutateci a Salvare i Bambini) headed by Ennio Bordato. The NGO was one of the first in Italy to respond to the tragedy and lend a helping hand to the children affected by the attack, and is now helping the affected children of Donbass as one of its priorities.

We view this step as an expression of solidarity and friendship on the part of ordinary people in Italy and San Marino, confirming that no externally imposed bloc attitudes can be an obstacle for sincere human feelings, for mutual assistance and support in difficult situations. We believe this is a good example of positive public diplomacy and a model of what a non-profit organisation involved in bilateral international relations should do. The gesture is in stark contrast to the activities of other foreign NGOs operating in Russia, which aim to undermine the unity and cohesion of the multinational and multi-confessional Russian society, to interfere in Russia’s internal affairs and participate in projects that are totally unrelated to their scope of interest.

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Mass grave of indigenous children found in Canada

 

A recent terrifying find, the remains of 215 indigenous children found in unmarked graves at a former residential school in Kamloops, British Columbia, has once again sharply raised the issue of Ottawa's policy to force the aboriginal population, now officially referred to as ‘First Nations,’ to assimilate into Canadian society. This policy was implemented until the late 1990s.

According to the most conservative estimates, more than 150,000 school-age Indians and representatives of peoples of the north were removed from their families and placed in residential schools for ‘enculturation’ and ‘adaptation to civilisation.’ Does it not remind you of anything from the current ‘liberal’ agenda? This is about a coercive alteration of people’s mindset and way of life, including children.

In those days, those children were forbidden to use their native language. Does that ring a bell? We regularly comment on Ukraine, with its new inhumane laws concerning languages and the notion of native and non-native people.

Now, back to Canada, which is so good at covering up the crimes of the Kiev regime today. More than 6,000 children have died from starvation, sexual and other forms of abuse, epidemics and unsanitary conditions in those prison-like schools, where they were supposed to be enculturated and adapted to civilisation.

The overall scale of the First Nations extermination in the colonial period and later, even in modern time, was so great that the authorities officially refer to these acts as ‘Canadian genocide.’

Despite some progress made in recent years, the indigenous people of Canada still remain a disadvantaged part of the population suffering from low living standards and high rates of suicide, alcoholism and drug addiction. Indigenous young women and girls who were subjected to forced sterilisation in the 1960s and 1970s continue to be mentioned massively in police statistics as murdered, kidnapped or missing.

We consider this situation absolutely unacceptable. We call on official Ottawa to focus on addressing the glaring problems at home instead of lecturing others on human rights, and to do this as regularly and consistently as they interfere in other people's internal affairs.

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Travel to and from Russia for football fans during the 2020 UEFA European Football Championship

 

In view of the UEFA EURO 2020 matches being held in June and July in St Petersburg, we would like to remind you that between May 29 and July 12, football fans can travel to and from Russia using only their travel documents recognised by Russian authorities, personalised FAN IDs, and they do not need a visa.

Information about obtaining FAN IDs was published on the official websites of Russian foreign missions and the Russian Foreign Ministry website well in advance. A FAN ID can be issued both electronically and as a laminated card which must be produced to attend UEFA EURO 2020 matches. Russian embassies are reaching out to potential spectators with more details.

Additionally, the Ministry of Digital Development, Communications and Mass Media released video instructions in both Russian and English which will be linked in the transcript of this briefing and on the MFA social media accounts.

FAN ID holders are eligible for multiple visa-free entries to Russia between May 29, 2021, and July 2, 2021 and multiple exits from Russia between May 29, 2021, and July 12, 2021.

Once again, we strongly recommend that all foreign nationals wishing to attend UEFA EURO 2020 matches need to deal with their FAN IDs well in advance by visiting the issuing website. This measure is necessary to prevent queues at Saint Petersburg Stadium during the championship.

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Host City Media Centre in St Petersburg

 

One of the essential tasks when preparing for UEFA EURO 2020 and during the championship itself is to provide comfortable working conditions for the media operating in Russia.

We would like to inform you that today (June 10), the Host City Media Centre is opening in St Petersburg, specifically for media representatives without official UEFA accreditation as well as independent journalists and bloggers who intend to cover UEFA EURO 2020 from Russia.

The Host City Media Centre will regularly hold news conferences, briefings, video linkups, guided tours, workshops and other themed events in which media representatives can participate both online and in person. Similar facilities were provided during the 2018 FIFA World Cup. Host city media centres were not only popular among the media but demonstrated excellent service and proved to be a great concept. I clearly remember the competent agencies working together on this concept and operation algorithms. It worked out quite well, as you can see. Therefore, it was decided to transfer the positive experience of 2018 to this year’s event.

The Host City Media Centre is located in St Petersburg, at the House of Journalists, on 70 Nevsky Prospekt. It will operate until July 12, from 10 am until the end of live matches on weekdays and according to the game schedule during the weekends.

Media representatives wishing to work at the Host City Media Centre need to apply for accreditation on its website: https://media.welcome2020.ru/accreditation/.

Both Russian and foreign journalists are welcome to obtain accreditation with the Host City Media Centre. Accredited journalists will receive confirmation by email. Foreign nationals can then submit a printed copy of the accreditation email and their health insurance covering the entire duration of their stay in Russia, to a Russian consular office (the Russian Consulate General or consular departments at Russian embassies) to obtain a Russian visa.

Host City Media Centre accreditation allows journalists to operate in both St Petersburg and Moscow as well as in the Leningrad Region and the Moscow Region. Media representatives planning to work from other regions of Russia must obtain accreditation from the Foreign Ministry’s Information and Press Department.

Please note that all Host City Media Centre events will also be streamed live at media.welcome2020.ru. Due to the current epidemiological situation, we recommend that you opt for online participation.

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Coronavirus update

 

We again address Russian nationals who are looking at options to travel abroad and spend their summer holidays there.

Please note the relevant recommendations regarding planning trips that are published on Foreign Ministry’s online resources. We ask you to heed the warnings we issued about the potential sanitary and logistic risks. All of this is very important. You can see the situation in the world for yourselves. Nobody keeps it a secret; moreover, they emphasise that the governments will have the right to promptly close their borders, including land ports of entry, suspend flights, or amend the public health requirements (curfew, logistics restrictions, etc.) if the epidemiological situation deteriorates. There are many examples of such emergency (and sometimes dramatic) situations. We update you about them.

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Russia Day

 

This Saturday, we will mark a state holiday, Russia Day. For us, diplomats, Foreign Ministry employees, it is a special day. Every year on June 12 we re-examine our past: the thousand-year-old history of our state, which, despite its great experience and multiple cultural layers, remains young and contemporary (the holiday was established less than 30 years ago). This synergy allows us to adapt to any challenge, including on our international borders. Our efforts to combat the coronavirus pandemic and cooperation with our foreign partners in vaccine diplomacy are good examples of that. We successfully deal with many issues (I am speaking now mostly on behalf of our employees working abroad) because we represent our country. We treat our Fatherland with deep, heartfelt love and sincere feeling of patriotism that is inherent for our diplomatic service.

But the holiday will take place amid the difficult sanitary and epidemiological situation that persists in many countries. Unfortunately, it continues to affect the traditional work format of many Russian foreign missions. On this day, our embassies used to hold state receptions, but like last year, this year they will take place online or in a hybrid format in the countries with a better coronavirus situation. On our part, we again are being creative about celebrating Russia Day. Together with our colleagues at embassies, representative offices and consulates general, we are launching an entire series of global events in our social networks. To avoid spoiling the surprise, we will reveal all news on Saturday. There will be everything: hashtags, flash mobs and nice gifts.

In addition, on Russia Day, we will publish many materials, including the addresses by ambassadors, video streaming of events and many others. Follow the Ministry and embassies’ social network accounts, including RuTube and TikTok.

Happy Russia Day!

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Answers to media questions:

Question: According to media reports, the FBI is investigating the Russian Community Council of the USA (KSORS). KSORS Chair Elena Branson said that no council members have been charged in the United States. What is the Russian Foreign Ministry doing to protect the rights of compatriots amid FBI’s pressure on KSORS?

Maria Zakharova: It is true that the US security services are putting pressure on the active members of the organisations of Russian compatriots in the United States, regarding their sincere efforts to support cultural and humanitarian ties with Russia and to improve the atmosphere of Russian-US relations through people-to-people diplomacy as a threat to US national security. In fact, they are infringing on the legitimate right of the Russian diaspora to preserve its identity, language and connection with Russia’s great historical heritage. These actions cannot be described as civilised or democratic. They contradict the message and principles promoted by the United States.

We used official diplomatic channels to indicate to the US the unacceptability of this hostile approach on numerous occasions and have undertaken demarches, including through the Russian Embassy in the United States in front of the State Department. If this destructive practice continues, this will have a most destructive effect on bilateral relations, which have been overtaxed with numerous problems and irritants.

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Question: In early June, Mohammed Othman Al-Hussein, Chief of Staff of the Sudanese Armed Forces, announced that Khartoum was ready to revise the agreement on the establishment of a Russian naval logistic base in the Red Sea. He said that Sudan wanted better conditions. What exactly are these conditions? Is Russia ready to honour them?

Maria Zakharova: Indeed, General Al-Hussein admitted in a June 1 interview with Sudan’s television network that the agreement could be amended. He claimed that the deal was signed under former Sudanese President Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir. I would like to point out that the agreement was signed in Khartoum by an authorised representative of the Transitional Military Council on July 23, 2019, that is, after the change of government.

However, Sudan has not yet ratified the agreement, because the country does not have a national legislative authority with the necessary powers during the transitional period. Therefore, coordinated amendments can be made to the text by decision of the signatories before the agreement comes into effect.

We would like to reaffirm our interest in strengthening partnership with Sudan in various spheres, including in military and military-technical cooperation, which the agreement on the establishment of a Russian naval logistic base can boost, in our opinion.

I believe that you can get more details from the Russian Defence Ministry.

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Question: As we are aware, two journalists from the Azerbaijani state media and a district executive power official were recently blown up by a land mine in the Kalbajar District, the Republic of Azerbaijan, in the course of performing their professional duties. The Russian Foreign Minister noted quite recently at a news conference in Baku that he had brought this issue up during his recent visit to Yerevan and said that “the Armenian leadership is aware that this issue needs to be resolved.” What is your response to this and is there any chance to advance this matter, such as provide minefield maps, which would be a logical move towards peace?

Maria Zakharova: Notably, Russia was one of the first to respond to this terrible tragedy. The Russian Embassy in Baku conveyed heartfelt condolences to the families and friends of the journalists blown up by a land mine in the Kalbajar District of Azerbaijan. We also wish a speedy recovery to everyone who was wounded in the explosion.

Demining is one of the most dangerous and hard-to-deal-with consequences of any armed conflict. Russia is making a sizable and significant contribution to the post-conflict demining in Nagorno-Karabakh and contiguous areas. Russian peacekeepers have detected about 26,000 explosive devices since November 23, 2020, cleared over 2,100 hectares of land and checked over 1,800 buildings and 650 km of roads. The Russian Emergencies Ministry is carrying out similar activities. By agreement with Azerbaijan, since January 4, Russian specialists have inspected over 550 hectares of land and defused about 18,000 explosive devices in Agdam District and provided training to a group of sappers from the Emergencies Ministry of Azerbaijan.

In our ongoing communication with Baku and Yerevan, including at the highest and high levels, we call on the sides to start cooperating on mine clearance efforts, including exchanging information about minefields. This matter was discussed during our Foreign Minister’s visits to Yerevan and Baku which took place during the first 10 days of May, which you also mentioned. We look forward to seeing this process pick up pace.

We consistently advocate for all humanitarian matters, including the return of prisoners of war and detainees and dead bodies, as well as locating the MIAs and much more, to be resolved, in strict compliance with the statements made by the leaders of Russia, Azerbaijan and Armenia on November 9, 2020 and January 11, 2021 as quickly as possible and without any preliminary conditions.

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Question: Quite often, we hear official Yerevan say that unblocking transport and economic ties is something that is good and necessary for Armenia itself. At the same time, the other day, acting Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said that “the Armenian government has not discussed any corridor-related issues, is not discussing them and will not discuss them.” Acting Deputy Prime Minister of Armenia Mher Grigoryan said something along the same lines. Is the transport corridor being discussed by the parties to the conflict? Does the working group remain operational?

Maria Zakharova: Unblocking transport and economic ties in the South Caucasus is our top priority, and the countries of the region, including Azerbaijan, Armenia and Russia, are interested in seeing it accomplished. The agreements to this end were mentioned in the joint statements by President of Russia Putin, President of Azerbaijan Aliyev and Prime Minister of Armenia Pashinyan on November 9, 2020 and January 11, 2021 which I have already mentioned. Deputy prime ministers of the three countries were charged with this work as part of the trilateral working group. Industry experts from the three countries provided an expert analysis of the necessary work to restore utilities, which is a good start for a phased-in implementation of joint infrastructure projects in the near future.

We hope that the trilateral working group will resume its activities soon in accordance with the trilateral agreements of the leaders. In fact, they have determined the direction of these efforts.

All the while, incidents on certain sections of the Azerbaijani-Armenian border do no good for normalising overall Azerbaijan-Armenia relations. We call on the parties to act with restraint, de-escalate tensions and overcome contradictions exclusively through peaceful talks.

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Question: Reportedly, due to the pandemic, the events that Russia and Azerbaijan planned to hold last year, such as the Interregional Forum in Baku, Azerbaijan Culture Days in Russia and the Youth Initiatives Forum, will be held this year. Do you have a timeframe for the dates?

Maria Zakharova: As we are putting the pandemic behind us and successfully dealing with its consequences, our countries are gradually returning to the usual dynamics of bilateral interaction and cooperation across all areas. In May, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov travelled to Baku, and Azerbaijani Prime Minister Ali Asadov came to Moscow on an official visit. Ministerial consultations at the level of deputy foreign ministers were held in Baku in early June. An extensive programme for interdepartmental and interregional contacts, as well as numerous joint events in the economy, culture and humanitarian exchanges will last until the end of the year. The specific dates will be determined as we go along and then made public.

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Question: Could you comment on the scandal over the facts that have been disclosed about espionage by the Danish foreign intelligence service, which, evidently, acts as a subcontractor to the US secret services and is spying on European countries and their leaders? Are you surprised by the West’s highly sluggish reaction and the lack of sanctions or the expulsion of diplomats in connection with the scandal over the Danish spying on the Europeans for the US authorities? Were it not Denmark but Russia, the response would be quite different.

Maria Zakharova: On the one hand, we have commented on this, and repeatedly, but, on the other, this topic is boundless. And it is boundless, not because a thing has happened that has become public knowledge, sparking off a huge international scandal, but because, as you rightly said, we – both Russian diplomats and foreign diplomats, and the public and journalists – cannot see even a semblance of the reaction that is usually shown by the Europeans, NATO, and the Americans in such cases with regard to other countries. This is phenomenal!  

So, in fact, when our Western partners have no grounds, facts or evidence, but have instead either some suspicions or some mythical stories, they form a collective position of pressure, and immediately come up with accusations, and at the same second declare a sentence with a punishment, and then start implementing the punishment. They use whatever expedients they can, expelling diplomats, seizing diplomatic property, issuing stop lists and blacklists, and imposing sanctions of all types. I do not even mention their polemics and aggressive statements, appeals, petitions, applications and the like. Moreover, these countries modify their domestic laws to ward off “aggressive actions” allegedly pursued by Russia, China, or whoever. We have seen how rapidly, vigorously and promptly the Western countries have launched their consolidated responses but in this instance, there is nothing at all.

Yesterday, the European MPs advanced yet another crazy initiative to impose sanctions on Russian citizens in connection with the Irish airline Ryanair incident in the sky over Belarus. What does Russia have to do with this? Or Russian citizens? Or Ryanair, Belarus, and the rest? But the initiative is there all the same.

Have you ever heard of the European MPs drawing up a draft statement or drafting a resolution or recommendations on imposing sanctions against, say, the United States, which has been regularly eavesdropping on European countries for decades? The list of the tapping mission targets includes France and Germany. In Germany, something unimaginable is happening from the point of view of US secret service involvement. This also concerns the countries that, as it always seemed to me, have never aspired to a leading role in the area of international security, such as Sweden, Norway, and Denmark. In a fantastic manner, the US first involved Sweden that was due, along with the UK, to spy on its neighbours, and then the US involved Denmark that had already been spying on Sweden. Apart from being unseemly and unlawful, this is absolutely filthy.

But the most fantastic thing is not even the foregoing. We have got used to such things in US history. The most fantastic thing is the lack of a reaction from the victims of the cyber spying: the facts of this are there for all to see and no one even denies them. This begs the question: Why does the West wax so sensitive to mythical threats and remain so indifferent to real ones? Perhaps they understand that they have no alternative, no freedom of action, no independence in dealing with such matters or even responding to them. Not a single visit has been cancelled. On the contrary, the Baltic states are paying a series of visits to Denmark, which has spied on Sweden, Norway, France, and Germany on orders from the US and with US direct involvement. Political support is being mustered for these steps with an ulterior motive.  Apart from everything else, this is simply indecent. That is all. Why and how? There can be very many conclusions. 

There is no freedom or democracy within country alliances like the EU or NATO, nor has there ever been, because all decisions are passed solely under pressure from the Big Brother, the United States.  Neither are there national interests that could be implemented independently without regard to others. Well, these interests are likely to exist after all, but countries are not allowed to attend to them. The will is lacking even to say politely that such steps are unacceptable.  This is why they are inventing stories about Russian hackers and Chinese IT experts, who are threatening the West.  This is being done to shift the public focus at least slightly away from the real threats, and the really ugly actions they undertake against each other or those who dominate their own national space, to such imaginary threats. 

Incidentally, here is yet another story. Two weeks ago, the European Court of Human Rights passed the final ruling on Edward Snowden’s revelations. These are about the US, the UK and Sweden spying on EU citizens and information gathering. Even the ECHR, a European mainstream organisation, admitted that these countries had violated an entire package of human rights norms and principles.  But do you remember the campaign of harassment that was launched against Edward Snowden and this country? Everyone forgot that this was against the law, that this was a human rights violation - a real, not mythical violation! Instead, all of them focused on an imaginary threat.

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Question: In early June, Speaker of the Serbian Parliament Ivica Dacic met with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov during his visit to Moscow. According to the Serbian media, the sides discussed various matters, including the Kosovo peace settlement. The Serbian media noted that, according to Sergey Lavrov, the Russian side will agree with any solution suiting Belgrade. At the same time, the need to comply with UN Security Council Resolution 1244 was not mentioned. Does this mean that Russia is revising its position on Kosovo and Metohija, and that it no longer considers unfailing compliance with the letter and spirit of UN Security Council Resolution 1244 as a foundation for resolving the Kosovo conflict?

Maria Zakharova: The responsibility for such conjectures should rest with those who produce them. They either do not follow the Russian position very closely, or they deliberately distort it. Russia regularly comments on topical international matters at all levels in connection with regional developments; the same can be said for anniversary dates. You personally and the Serbian media are well aware of the Russian position which has not changed in any way over the past years. We would like Belgrade and Pristina to attain a viable and mutually acceptable solution on the basis of UN Security Council Resolution 1244. This solution should conform to international law and should also be approved by the UN Security Council because this implies efforts to maintain international peace and security.

Indeed, we have repeatedly noted at all levels that we will agree with a solution that would suit the people of Serbia. But I would like to note once again that it is simply impossible not to see our references to UN Security Council Resolution 1244.

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Question: Does Russia plan to take any specific steps for preventing the appointment of the High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina in circumvention of the UN Security Council?

Maria Zakharova: We maintain diplomatic contacts and hold talks on this score, as well. As you know, on June 7, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov had a telephone conversation with Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs of the French Republic Jean-Yves Le Drian and Foreign Minister of the Federal Republic of Germany Heiko Maas. During their contacts, the sides touched upon various aspects of the situation on the Balkan Peninsula. The Russian side and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov himself noted the overdue need for shutting down the Office of the High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina and ceding all authority and responsibility for the country’s destiny to the authorities of Bosnia and Herzegovina under the principles of the Dayton Agreement. Any attempts to appoint a new representative at a time when members of the Steering Board and the Bosnian sides have failed to reach consensus and in circumvention of the UN Security Council are incompatible with the interests of stabilising Bosnia and Herzegovina.

So far, there is nothing new in our position which is based on principles that we have voiced in the past and which we have reported to our partners. Consequently, we are maintaining contacts and exerting diplomatic efforts.

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Question: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in the Senate this week that the Nord Stream 2 completion is “a reality,” and the United States will work with Germany to try to mitigate any damage done by the pipeline going into operation. How does the Russian Foreign Ministry assess such statements and such “humility” on the part of the US? What kind of reaction do you expect from Berlin to Washington’s intentions? Will this be discussed?

Maria Zakharova: During the St Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF), President of Russia Vladimir Putin announced the completion of the first leg of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline. Based on this, we expect the pipeline’s commissioning by the end of this year.

We appreciate the German Government’s continued commitment to this project. Russia and Germany both insist on considering the pipeline an exclusively commercial project aimed at strengthening the energy security of Germany and the EU. Among other things, it is an attractive project in terms of environmental safety and the announced goal to transition to green energy. Various Russian departments have repeatedly spelled out our position loud and clear. Each of them has explained the work it was doing, outlined its targets, and shared what has been done.

We do not understand the statement about trying to mitigate “the adverse consequences” of gas going through this pipeline. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said so, and many experts (as we understand, they were also incited by American state agencies) have been mentioning this. This kind of speculation either involves unfair competition or attempts to politicise the situation. Both are pointless. There need to be facts behind the words. What facts is the American side implying? What adverse effects? Do they mean adverse consequences for the United States because they have lost the dirty game they started? But that is their internal problem. Why did they even start this confrontation over an absolutely commercial, profitable and transparent energy project that did not concern their continent in any way? It is up to Europeans – us and other countries on the continent – what we do when it comes to our cooperation. We will make our own decisions.

If they meant adverse consequences of the end of that terrible information and political campaign, they should comment and explain what they meant. This project simply cannot have any adverse consequences for European countries. We do not even know what they are talking about.

As for the United States having to admit that the project is almost complete, it is a good thing they occasionally see the real picture.

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Question: Last year, the United States recognised Morocco’s sovereignty over Western Sahara. What is Moscow’s opinion of this move in light of the recent migration crisis and Morocco’s attempts to put pressure on Spain and the EU by warning them of the potential inflow of illegal migrants? Is it possible that Russia will adopt a similar decision to recognise Morocco’s sovereignty over Western Sahara?

Maria Zakharova: We commented on this US decision in a Foreign Ministry statement issued on December 12, 2020. We pointed out that this decision by the US administration would undermine the generally recognised international legal framework of the Settlement Plan for the Western Sahara, which provides for determining the final status of this territory by way of an UN-supervised referendum. I can say that our position remains unchanged. It is still valid.

Russia’s official position on this chronic problem remains unchanged. We believe that a lasting and just solution is possible based only on the implementation of the relevant UN General Assembly and Security Council resolutions within the framework of the procedures consistent with the principles and goals of the UN Charter. We also believe that the peace process could be relaunched through the resumption of direct talks between Morocco and the Polisario Front with UN mediation. Furthermore, we believe that a new UN Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy for Western Sahara should be appointed at long last. This post has remained vacant for over 18 months. The process should be completed through the appointment of a professional.

Overall, we are convinced that the parties involved in the settlement are capable of working out solutions that will meet the interests of regional security and stability. We believe that the elimination of this hotbed of tension would help to establish effective collective interaction in fighting common security challenges and threats, primarily, terrorism and cross-border crime, launch integration processes in the Maghreb and settle many other issues on the agenda.

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Question: What can you say about Russia-NATO dialogue? The NATO Secretary General said that Russia is avoiding dialogue. The Russian Foreign Ministry said in a comment that Russia is ready to talk and to discuss de-escalation but dialogue is impossible without NATO restoring contacts between military experts. Russian Deputy Defence Minister Colonel General Alexander Fomin has announced that the NATO leadership was invited to the IX Moscow Conference on International Security, which is scheduled for June 22-24. Has NATO responded in any way to this proposal?

Maria Zakharova:  At first I thought that my eyes were playing tricks on me, but then I looked again and saw that they are not. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg keeps saying that Russia refuses to talk with the alliance, that it doesn’t want to cooperate and is avoiding interaction. We immediately say in our comments that we are not avoiding discussion, and then we put forth our position. But Stoltenberg only repeats that Russia is avoiding dialogue, is not cooperative and is not providing any response. At the same time, he is using the media to make the public believe that Russia is not responding to NATO’s call for cooperation. Everything possible is being done to bury our response in an endless repetition of these allegations.

Let me tell you once again what replies we provide to our NATO partners, what our position is and what replies we receive from the bloc.

The Russian Foreign Ministry leadership has issued numerous comments on Russia-NATO dialogue. I could spend hours citing President Vladimir Putin, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Defence Minister Sergey Shoigu, but it all boils down to the following: we are open to dialogue with the alliance. The Russia-NATO Council should indeed hold a meeting, but only if the agenda is focused on practical issues aimed at reducing military tension. This definitely calls for the engagement of our military experts. After all, NATO is a military-political bloc, so why should this be illogical?

As for inviting NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg to the Moscow Conference on International Security, we have received an answer. Do you want to know what it is? Stoltenberg says every day that he wants to cooperate with Russia and that the ball is in Russia’s court but Russia refuses to talk. But he himself has refused to accept our invitation to the Moscow conference. What better proof of the true intentions of NATO and its Secretary General can one ask for?

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Question: What can you tell us about media reports of Russia planning to introduce e-visas for so-called “vaccine tourism?”

Maria Zakharova: At this point, the Emergency Response Centre continues the suspension of e-visas for foreign citizens. If the centre makes a different decision, we will develop a new approach as part of our interagency collaboration.

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Question: Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the other day that Russia was ready to normalise relations with the EU. Is the EU sending any signals that it is ready to meet Russia halfway?

Maria Zakharova: Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov just reiterated our position on relations with Europe at a recent political science forum. Transcripts of his remarks have been posted on the MFA website.  

I can only reaffirm that Russia has never been the instigator of breaking off cooperation with the EU or introducing restrictions. As a result of an unprecedented crisis of trust fueled by unfriendly steps on the part of certain EU member states and the introduction of unlawful restrictions, Brussels’ relations with Russia have sunk to a very low level. This state of affairs doesn’t meet the interests of either side and needs to be rectified. This obvious truth is understood by an increasing number of countries in the world, including more European states.  

We have never doubted the true attitude of ordinary Europeans, as distinct from the political establishment. People are calling for a resumption of normal relations at the political level – we get comments, letters and appeals from the business community, public figures, and from people representing the humanitarian dimensions of our relations, something that makes it obvious that all these negative moves are being initiated contrary to the interests of many European countries and people.

We understand that the artificial imposition of confrontational rhetoric and unfriendly actions is coming to an end. The need for contacts and dialogue is becoming clearer and is finding more understanding. 

Regular contacts at the top level are evidence of a shared interest in dialogue. The latest telephone conversation between President of Russia Vladimir Putin and President of the European Council Charles Michel was held on June 7 (as reported on the President of Russia website). The presidents focused on a wide range of issues from healthcare to regional stability, and these subjects are not random. Russia and the EU share the continent and are natural partners. Existing differences will not change this reality.

It is in our common interest to build equitable and honest relations based on international law, mutual respect and consideration for each other’s differing approaches. We are ready for pragmatic and mutually beneficial cooperation with the EU in a number of areas, such as healthcare, environmental protection, including efforts to fight climate change, digitalisation, science and technology. In recent months, this matter has been repeatedly discussed with EU officials and representatives of EU member states. Officials in the EU confirm their interest in this, but the problem is they do not go beyond words.

At the same time, the EU continues its policy of holding occasional meetings with individual Russian representatives to promote their vision on certain matters. It is clear that this approach cannot replace real cooperation that is capable of benefitting both Russia and the EU countries. Responsible efforts from both sides are needed to meet mutual interests and contribute to the good of our countries. Let me reiterate that Russia is ready for this constructive approach, but there are basic conditions to be respected like regard for each other’s interests, an understanding that each state has its own national interests, an international legal basis for such cooperation, and the renunciation of illegal actions, such as sanctions pressure, aggressive rhetoric, etc.

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Question: US President Joe Biden will have a series of meetings in Europe, including a G7 summit, a NATO summit, and a US-EU summit, in the lead up to his meeting with President Putin. The things that you shared with us about Russia’s expectations and Russia’s readiness for a dialogue are very important. What does Moscow expect from these summits and meetings of the Western coalition members? Are there any signs that a dialogue still has a chance and that these summits could tell on the summit between the two presidents?

Maria Zakharova: The Presidential Executive Office is in charge of the substantive part of the summit, as well as its protocol and information support. Other departments are involved in this work as well, but I would like to reserve the right to comment on this for my higher-ranking colleagues from the Press Service of the President of Russia and the Presidential Executive Office.

Yesterday, at the Primakov Readings forum, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov spoke in great detail not so much about the expectations, but the actual state of Russia-US relations. The transcript is posted on our website.

I think there’s an important aspect that is related to political science or philosophy. When you (and not just you) ask about the expectations, are you sure we need to focus on expectations? I think it is important to talk about reality. There may be all kinds of expectations, but reality and proper identification of reality is what really matters. On our part, indentifying realities includes the level of relations, the issues at hand and the “red lines.” We have been discussing these matters publicly in the course of our contacts with our US colleagues for a long time now. We are not hiding them. Identifying reality and real problems is what matters most. Everything else stems from that.

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Question: The demographic situation in Russia cannot be improved quickly. Vast numbers of our compatriots want to obtain Russian citizenship or have it back. Our embassies abroad are issuing foreign travel passports. Due to the pandemic restrictions, entry to Russia is banned and doing paperwork here is not an option. Can our embassies help people to obtain residence permits or Russian citizenship? They are one of us, our supporters who know the situation in the West and have suffered enough. They could help us spread the truth about life in the West and compare it to life in Russia. We would thus get many new citizens.

Maria Zakharova: I digress, but I would like to point out that citizenship is a set of responsibilities rather than a matter of political agenda or views. It is an institution that implies a number of requirements and responsibilities of the country to the citizen and the citizen to the state and society. I think light conversation about these matters is not a legitimate approach.

You are absolutely correct that the Covid-related constraints gave rise to a host of new problems that no one had thought were possible previously. Through our diplomatic and consular missions, we are trying to act quickly to resolve these matters and do so in accordance with the guidelines developed under the authority of the Emergency Response Centre, the Government, etc. We are not alone in approaching this matter like that. Many countries have restricted entry and travel. Being aware of the people’s need to communicate, to live their lives and to deal with their issues, we are taking these factors into account in our work.

Your other question was about issuing residence permits. They are not being issued, because there are Russian laws that regulate which agency and which department are in charge of issuing which kinds of documents. If my memory serves me correctly, the Foreign Ministry does not issue residence permits. This is done by a different department whose scope of duties includes matters of migration. In this context, we are acting in accordance with our legislation.

Once again, I would like to point out the fact that life goes on and new developments come about that no one thought would ever be part of our reality.

On the one hand, your question is quite to the point, but, on the other hand, it is philosophical. Thank you for your continued attention and interesting ideas.

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